Commentary: What Jackson Jr. Owes People and What He Doesn’t

The Illinois congressman is reportedly being treated for a mood disorder and people want to know more. Should he tell them?

Posted: 07/13/2012 01:08 PM EDT

If you’re interested in African-American politics at all, you’ve probably heard about Jesse Jackson Jr.’s new troubles. A scion of one of America’s most prominent Black families, in 1995 Jackson slid easily into his Illinois Congressional seat, where he has served ever since. But just recently, Jackson’s health has started to decline. As’s Joyce Jones reported late last month:

It appears that Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson's tough primary race that he handily won was apparently tougher than the reporters who cover him on Capitol Hill realized. The lawmaker's office issued a statement on Monday announcing he's been on a medical leave of absence for two weeks to receive treatment for exhaustion.

Although Jackson has been away from the Capitol since June 10, his office has continued to issue press releases on a variety of issues. Watkins told the Chicago Tribune that his silence on the absence was a "family request." Details about where he's being treated and for how long remain undisclosed.

In the ensuing weeks, it’s been reported that Jackson is being treated for a “mood disorder,” which could include everything from mania to clinical depression. A statement from Jackson’s office said, “Recently, we have been made aware that he has grappled with certain physical and emotional ailments privately for a long period of time. At present, he is undergoing further evaluation and treatment at an in-patient medical facility.” Sources also say that Jackson is being treated for alcohol abuse, a claim his chief of staff denies.

Given what we do know — that Jackson, regardless of what he suffers from, will be incapacitated for an indeterminate amount of time — the question then becomes what his obligation is to his colleagues and, more important, his constituents. The people who have asked Jackson to lead them for nearly two decades now deserve to know if Jackson is unable to lead them anymore. What’s more, Jackson is supposed to be running for re-election in November. If he’s not up to that job, for whatever reason, he should make that known and give some other Democrat the opportunity to run.

Whether Jackson is struggling with bipolar disorder or alcoholism or drug addiction doesn’t matter. It’s fully his right to maintain some semblance of privacy despite the fact that he’s a politician. But you don’t have to disclose exactly what Jackson’s ailment is to disclose whether he’s up to the tasks asked of him anymore. Let his private life stay private, but when you’re a public servant, the public has a right to know whether you can serve it.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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